“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thes. 2:2-3)
The “falling away” (the Greek word apostasia, meaning the rebellion or the departure) presupposes that there will be a large enough group of people involved in this distinctive end-times event…to be worth mentioning in Holy Scripture.
If the Christian church were to be raptured pretribulation into heaven before this falling away, so many hundreds of millions of Christians would be absent off the earth through an unexpected early rapture…then there would not be a large enough number of people physically present in orthodox Christian churches to have a rebellion, a departure, or a falling away from.
Certainly large numbers of unsaved people in modern-day, liberal, apostate churches would be left behind in a pretribulation rapture scenario…along with some people in orthodox Christian churches…who were unsaved…would be left behind.
But being “left behind” in a pretribulation rapture context would not be a rebellion, a departure, or a falling away. It would more accurately be called an exposure. It would be a decisively clear and public revelation of a nominal, unregenerate, hypocritical spiritual condition that…before the rapture…would not be openly apparent.
To accurately be called a falling away in this end-times prophetic context, we have to have something numerically substantial enough in-place to fall away from. Things that fall away from nothing do not fall-away, they independently dissipate, dissolve, or collapse.
If a pretribulation rapture triggers a subsequent great falling away, as some people believe, how then does a person rebel, depart, or fall away from a church that essentially no longer exists? How does a person fall away from a church that has ninety-five percent or more of its members disappearing instantly through the rapture?
In this case the raptured church lifted off the earth has done the “falling away”…the active movement…not the left behind person standing alone in an empty church that no longer has a congregation.
And why would a person rebel, depart, or fall away from an apostate church that has only five percent or less of its members disappear instantly through the rapture, with ninety-five percent or more left behind?
This is not a question of word semantics.
Paul is clearly differentiating the falling away from the rapture, because He says that one cannot happen before the occurrence of the other.
The point I am making here is that not only are the falling away and the rapture two different events, but also that the falling away is not plausibly a result or a by-product of a pretribulation rapture.
If this line of reasoning is correct, this has huge implications towards a better understanding of the dynamics of the upcoming great tribulation…for the Christian church.
The rapture would not generate the great falling away of 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3.
The three components that Paul lists here…the rapture, the falling away, and the revealing of the son of perdition, must occur in the sequential order he gives.
The question the Thessalonians were asking: “Did the rapture already occur and did we miss it?” is answered by Paul by saying that the rapture cannot happen until the falling away and the revelation of the son of perdition…have occurred.
That this end-times prophetic question by the Thessalonians involves the rapture and not the second coming, is inferred by Paul and by the Thessalonian leaders writing to Paul, by the simple fact that both Paul and the Thessalonians are unquestionably saved…but physically still on the earth…still alive…and still legitimately discussing this issue.
If the topic under discussion involved the second coming, the entire first-century church at that time understood correctly that Jesus Christ instead would then be openly ruling and reigning on earth, and the original question sent by letter to Paul would have been moot and nonsensical.
Like today, the timing of the rapture within the sequence of end-times events was an unsettled question, and Paul gives additional information to the Thessalonian Christians…to the limits and extent of his inspired understanding.
Again, the people who would be “left behind” in a pretribulation rapture are left behind in-place. “Left behind” is not synonymous with “falling away.”
There is no remarkable displacement…no noticeably important movement of the “falling away” group…if the main body itself…the raptured church…is the entity that has done the actual moving away through a physical disappearance.
The world-at-large would not therefore view the non-raptured churchgoers, who would stop attending a non-existing church because it was now pointless to do so, as the New Testament prophesied “great falling away.”